Five storylines in the URC as Irish giants clash and South African sides look to stabilise

Dylan Coetzee
Split with Leinster v Munster, Bulls coach Jake White and Sharks captain Francois Venter.

Split with Leinster v Munster, Bulls coach Jake White and Sharks captain Francois Venter.

The United Rugby Championship has quickly rolled onto round six and with more and more internationals returning each week it is set to be one of the best weekends of the season yet.

Ahead of the action, Planet Rugby selects five storylines to keep an eye on during the next round of action.

Milestones aplenty

Just with the Friday games, there are already several milestones confirmed with veteran Stormer, Brok Harris, leading the way with his 400th senior appearance – a remarkable achievement. In the same outing, he also moves alongside Steven Kitshoff as the most-capped Stormers player in history.

Elsewhere, Scotland skipper Jamie Ritchie notches up his own milestone, reaching 100 caps for Edinburgh in an impressive effort. Cardiff star Ellis Jenkins reaches a century of his own this weekend as his side hosts the Stormers.

Derby time in Ireland

Inter-pro derbies in Ireland are always well-contested and passionate affairs with Leinster hosting Munster set to be a massive clash.

The two have not met since last season’s semi-final where Jack Crowley’s clutch drop-goal was the difference in a physically bruising and tight clash which in the end was a stepping stone to a Munster title.

Now they are back in the regular season with fully-loaded teams raising the bar on quality in the URC. Munster will be desperate to get another one over their rivals whilst Leinster will be looking to underline where they sit in the hierarchy.

Can South African teams stop the bleeding?

The hangover of winning the Rugby World Cup has certainly taken its toll on the South African teams who have gotten their Springboks stars back in dribs and drabs thus far.

The Bulls are the best-placed side in seventh whilst last season’s finalists the Stormers have lost three on the bounce for the first time in the URC. The Sharks are in a period of change as the side gets used to the game model John Plumtree wants to play and the Lions have been passionate but failed to capitalise.

All teams bar the Stormers are at home this weekend after touring for the most part of the season thus far, which should improve chances of a victory. As much as the South African teams have taken time to adapt in the north, the same could be said for the European sides in the south. The Stormers know a win in the last game of their tour puts them in a decent enough position for an extended period in South Africa.

Springboks are starting to make their return and by the beginning of December could be fully integrated into their teams again. This may well be a transitional round for the South Africans.

Edinburgh building a fortress

The Scottish side have quietly been building a lovely bit of home form with four wins on the bounce – one of which overlaps to last season. These wins include good performances against the Bulls, Ospreys, Lions and Connacht.

Taking points off these kinds of teams is a good step forward for Edinburgh, who look to have found some good grit about them with Sean Everitt’s influence as senior coach already showing.

Interestingly, Edinburgh have a powerful squad loaded with a good balance of experience and X-factor. The Scots will be looking to produce another season in the play-offs and perhaps go deeper in the tournament this time around. That continues with a home clash with Benetton this weekend.

Glasgow set for a bruising battle with Ulster

Since the arrival of last season’s coach of the year in the URC, Franco Smith, Glasgow Warriors have been on a strong upward trajectory in all competitions as the tactician has found a way to unlock the potential of the squad.

So much so that it is threatening to shuffle the hierarchy in the URC, making the clash with Ulster a fascinating one. The Belfast side will be looking to improve on their recent campaigns, which have shown promise but lacked the edge to get them into a final or a trophy-winning position.

This game is a real opportunity for either of these teams to lay down a marker and signal intent to rival the top sides in the league.

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